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5.600 fuel cell patents open for free usage By Christoph Hammerschmidt In a move aiming at boosting acceptance of the fuel-cell technology for electric vehicles, carmaker Toyota has announced to release more than 5.600 patents related to this technology and allow interested parties to use them without charge. Hydrogen-based fuel cells can serve as energy source for electrically driven vehicles. Like battery-driven cars, these vehicles are not emitting any exhaust gases locally; instead of CO2 and other gases all they emit is H2O - pure water. But unlike their battery-driven counterparts, fuel cell vehicles offer driving ranges comparable to conventional cars with gasoline engines. Many OEMs including Daimler and GM are investing heavily into fuel cell development and have plans to bring the technology to series maturity. Market and technology leader in this field is Toyota - the Japanese carmaker is the first one to commercially sell such a vehicle. Available since mid-December in Japan, this vehicle named Mirai is scheduled for market entry in Europe and the U.S. by April 2015. The downside of the fuel cell technology is the lack of an infrastructure: The fuel cell is fed with hydrogen carried along in a tank, much like other fuels such as gasoline or PNG. During the ride, the liquefied hydrogen is used up and needs to be refilled. In contrast to the abovementioned liquids however, hydrogen filling stations are still very rare, and a single vehicle vendor won’t justify the investment to establish such an infrastructure. To foster the acceptance of the technology and thus to create the critical mass, Toyota aims at starting joint initiatives with other carmakers and energy suppliers. Towards this end, Toyota now has announced to allow the free use of the intellectual property content of some 5.680 patents it is holding globally. In order to benefit from the technologies and methods developed by Toyota, interested parties have to close a contract with the Japanese OEM that defines the usage intentional usage and the usual licence topics. According to Toyota, the patents in question refer to fuel cell stacks (1.970 patents) and high-pressure hydrogen fuel tanks (290 patents). By far the largest number of patents however (3.350) describes the software necessary to control the processes and reactions in the fuel cell. Enterprises and organisations aiming at establishing a network of filling stations can access and use 70 additional patents dedicated to the design and operation of such fuelling stations. Toyota’s move reminds much of a similar action by Tesla Motors in mid-2014. The US manufacturer of battery electric vehicles opened up its patents for free use by anyone contributing to the development of such cars. Like the fuel cell technology, the battery technology for electric vehicles urgently depends on scale effects that make batteries better and more affordable. Increasingly it turns out that both approaches - battery electric vs. fuel cell - are sliding into a competitive position against each other. The outcome of this competition will greatly depend on which camp will be able to mobilise more - and more creative - supporters. Volvo airs cloud-based cyclist protection system By Christoph Hammerschmidt The facts are disturbing: 50 percent of all cyclists killed in Europe’s traffic have collided with a car. In Germany, the Netherlands and Poland, more than 85% of cyclist fatalities occurred at crossroads. To make cyclist’s life safer, Volvo has developed a technology that increases the awareness both for cyclists as for car drivers by utilising mobile radio technology. For the technology, Volvo collaborated with telecommunications equipment provider Ericsson and protective sports gear manufacturer POC. The system utilises a smartphone app to announce the cyclist’s position to the Volvo cloud and from there to the cars in the surroundings. The information is also passed vice versa; if the danger of an imminent collision is identified, both the car driver as well as the cyclist will be warned - the car driver gets a message in his head-up display; the cyclist is warned through a helmet-mounted alert light. The system has the advantage that car drivers - as long as they drive a Volvo with the system installed - can detect cyclists even in the blind spot or under poor visibility conditions (night, unlighted bike etc). Similar attempts have already been launched at several places. For instance, the Munich Technical University a year ago launched a trial in which it equipped pedestrians and cyclists with a mobile handset that took the function of a transponder. Back in 2010, the Kassel University conducted a similar experiment. All of these approaches share the same problem: While the safety for persons carrying such a transponder or smartphone will improve, traffic participants who are not equipped with the system are effectively becoming less visible - the system simply directs the driver’s attention to the better equipped objects. The advantage of Volvo’s new approach is that it is a two-way system, passing its alerts also to the cyclist - former systems did not do this. www.electronics-eetimes.com Electronic Engineering Times Europe January 2015 15


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